Mario Kart Live caused quite a stir when it was announced recently; it’s a new ‘toy’ from Nintendo which mixes the real world with augmented reality via your Switch console’s display, and it launches next month.
Nintendo has teamed up with developer Velan Studios to create Mario Kart Live, but it’s worth noting that this isn’t the first time the Japanese giant has dabbled with the concept of remote control cars. Back in 1972, it produced the Lefty RX, a RC set designed by Gunpei Yokoi, who would later create the Game & Watch and Game Boy lines.
Despite arriving at a time when RC toys were still quite new and expensive, Lefty RX kept costs low by only allowing the car to turn left (hence the name, see?) and keeping the internal parts as basic as possible. It cost ¥4.980 (around $45), which was much cheaper than Tamiya’s first RC car, based on the Porsche 934 Turbo RSR, which didn’t arrive until 1976.
Like Mario Kart Live, Nintendo decided to release the Lefty RX in a single pack variant which gave you one car, a remote control, a charging station, batteries, a screwdriver and a sheet of stickers. The car – available in red, blue and gold colours – contained a rechargeable power cell which was topped up by connecting it physically to the charging station. While other RC cars were expected to perform a wide range of moves – acceleration, turning in two directions and even reverse motion – the Lefty RX reduced this complexity (and therefore price) by offering just one button on its remote control. To make the car move forward, you pushed down on the trigger, and to make it slow down and turn left, you simply released the button.
This streamlined control method had its limitations, of course. Because the cars could only turn left, players could only race in an anti-clockwise direction. You could create a track with a set of small plastic cones (included in the Lefty RX ‘Double’ and ‘Triple’ sets) which neatly predicted the ‘virtual track’ you have to make with Mario Kart Live – or you could simply create your own course around your living room.
The Lefty series was later expanded to include the Lefty RX G.T Sport and Lefty RX Proto-Type, and was incredibly successful in Japan. Mario Kart Live looks certain to equal or surpass this success, but it’s interesting that it’s not Nintendo’s first attempt at cracking this particular market.
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